NovoMetro

Education in Oakland

Chasing Stories

Posted by novometro on January 11, 2007

A reporter for the East Bay Express wrote a breathless account of his journalistic derring-do following the inaugural ceremony for Mayor Ron Dellums Monday afternoon at the Paramount Theater. Apparently, Mr. Dellums had invited reporters for the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle for a Q & A after the event, but failed to include the East Bay Express reporter.

Refusing to be left out, the East Bay Express reporter brushed past security guards as he tracked the new mayor through the hallways of the Paramount’s backstage. He caught up with Mr. Dellums and the other reporters just in time to ask Mr. Dellums what it meant for him “to have to interrupt the day’s events to quiet a crowd that was enraged about the re-election of the City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.”

The episode was meant to illustrate that the new mayor’s promises of a transparent City Hall might be hollow. I suspect that the East Bay Express reporter’s difficulty was more the handiwork of overstimulated security guards than willful opacity on the part of the Dellums team. Either way, chasing Mr. Dellums through the bowels of the Paramount is a waste of time.

It’s true, the new mayor doesn’t seem to like reporters very much. As the East Bay Express reporter noted, Mr. Dellums’ pastor’s first request of God during the inaugural ceremony was to protect the new mayor from the press. I don’t think he needs much help in that department. Ask the mayor a question (as a journalist) and he will fix you with a hard, meaningful stare. Then he will narrow his eyes as if to say, “The words I am about to tell you are so important it makes my eyes sting.” He will then tell you something so polished it sounds like he has been delivering a version of it for 40 years. And, of course, he probably has.

Expecting something interesting to emerge from a mayoral press conference is like expecting something interesting to emerge from President Bush’s address to the nation Wednesday night.

In our upside down universe the details of a new phone from Apple are a closely guarded secret complete with decoys and disinformation campaigns, while a military “strategy,” upon which actual human lives are balanced, is broadcast to the entire world.

If Mr. Dellums is serious about running an open City Hall, and there is no reason now to suspect that he isn’t, he will allow city employees to speak freely to the press. He will publish his official calendar online, revealing the people he meets with when he is working on our dime. He will post his statements of economic interest online and encourage other city officials to do the same. I would love it if he one-upped the Fair Political Practices Commission and published his statement of economic interest quarterly rather than the annual file the FPPC now requires.

And there are plenty of things we can do as citizens of Oakland to ensure openness in our local government. There is no reason to rely on the media to chase down the story. First, we can share information and expertise as broadly as possible. Very often, as Malcolm Gladwell writes in a recent New Yorker article, “secrets” are often sitting in broad daylight waiting for decoding.

People on the inside can make use of new websites like wikileaks.org, which is designed to expose corruption and repression in poor, brutal countries, but can also be useful in the west.

Through collaboration, no reporter will ever have to chase a politician backstage again. Unless he wants to.

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5 Responses to “Chasing Stories”

  1. adeline said

    Good, fair, thoughtful comment, unless the Express, which has made a “prejudgment”.

    However, Alex, I wish the Novometro home page would alert me somehow whenever there’s a new posting on your blog. Hope that’s in the works.

  2. V Smoothe said

    “No reason to suspect he isn’t.”? Is this a joke? Aside from empty rhetoric, has Dellums done a single thing to indicate that he actually cares about transparency in government? His campaign was marked by hostility and inaccessibility to the media. He refuses to speak to a reporter for a major publication because the reporter wrote something he doesn’t like.

    As for “one-upping” the FPPC, I can’t imagine why one would expect that from someone who refused to release his tax returns and income statements when other Mayoral candidates did so, still refuses to disclose or discuss his lobbying contracts from the past several years, and unrepentantly violated the campaign spending limit.

    The creepy shroud of secrecy surrounding the “citizen task forces” he’s so proud of is even more disturbing. He claims that he will be basing his agenda on their recommendations, yet their meetings have not only been hidden from not only the media, but also from the average Oaklander. Lists of task force members are secret, lists of the subjects of the task forces are secret, and their sunshine ordinance-exempt meetings are not accessible to the public.

    I know that you’re hoping for the best from the new administration, and I am too, but there is a difference between cautious optimism and naivety.

  3. Jim said

    Years ago my cousin owned a shop in Rockridge. Ted Dang was running against Elihu Harris for mayor. I was sitting in a bar with my cousin and I pointed out how Dang was pulling ahead in the race. My cousin smiled and said Dang will never win. Business groups ran him to give Harris a wake up call about how they were being treated. Harris would win but get a message.
    See politics in Oakland two ways. One is money and contracts from government through to certain groups. As an example remember the stink that was raised over who got the resturaunt at Lake Merrit. An outside but better choice company got the bid and shouts of racism flew. The election of Dellums is the feedback from minorities that they are not getting fair treatment at the table.
    The second way to see politics here is from the political spectrum. Progressives see Brown and Del la Fuente as a sellout to their political hope of a Socialist/Green dream. Dellums is their last best hope for a future.
    What does this mean? Probably a lot of wasted money on programs that don’t work. Rhetoric important to the few and ignored by the many.
    I would not expect any more of an open government than allowed to give the impression of transparency. Politicians don’t like light switches.
    The citizen task forces are probably going to give the same advice you always hear. They are filled with the same people that were caliing down the council at the Paramount. Mostly quacks I would say.

  4. novometro said

    It’s not a joke. I have heard competing accounts of the task force process. But with hundreds of people involved, it can hardly be considered a cabal.

    i think the real credulity comes in expecting the mayor’s personal feelings toward the media to have a bearing on how much we learn about city business in coming years.

    Mayors who are chummy with the press often get away with the most. It’s up to us citizens to pay attention and see what may be hidden in plain view.

  5. […] Novometro co-founder Alex Gronke to opine that whether Dellums was friendly to reporters or not didn’t really matter: If Mr. Dellums is serious about running an open City Hall, and there is no reason now to suspect […]

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